This was my favorite of these books so far, by quite a large margin. I would say it probably even surpasses the first book for me, mostly because there was no Agent Yvette Nichol here to muck things up (though she has gotten much better since that first book). There was just something about the central mystery here that really appealed to me.
This is book five in the Inspector Gamache series, and he continues to be a very calm, steady presence for Penny to anchor her book series around. This is also the first book since Still Life to feature a murder that directly affects one of our main group of characters, in this case Gabri and Olivier. A murderer evidently placed the dead body of a hermit inside their bistro, and their friend Myrna is the one to discover it. (I cannot tell you how relieving it felt to just ignore the improbability of these same people finding yet another dead body in only a handful of a few years.) As you might imagine, this causes upheaval in Gabri and Olivier’s lives, not least because Olivier seems to be a suspect. The book opens with him meeting the hermit in secret, a fact which he tells no one, after they find the body. He claims not to know the man, so you’re just waiting the entire time for that bombshell to drop.
But really, it’s the hermit himself that caught my imagination. Inside of his hidden cabin in the woods is a veritable horde of modern day treasure: first editions of books (Charlotte’s Web, Jane Eyre); expensive Russian China that seems to have been used by the Romanovs; a million dollar violin; among others. And he uses cash, literally, as toilet paper. They find it stuffed in the walls of his outhouse. Who was this man? How did he get so many extremely valuable items in one place? In the middle of the Canadian woods? And why? Why would someone want to murder him?
I think it’s great that Penny is letting her characters evolve, and she’s showing their warts. Here, it’s Olivier in the spotlight. He is not the gentle, kind, simple man that he appears, either to his friends and Gamache, or to us. He’s much more complicated. And the events of this book feel like they are going spiral out and affect the series for a while. I appreciate this. It makes me feel more invested (though I certainly like Olivier a lot less after this).
And I like Ruth more. She and her duck, Rosa, are peppered throughout the book in just the right proportions. Rosa wears people clothes. I hope we get a book that focuses on Ruth down the line. There is also a horrifying subplot with Clara, where her dream basically turns into her nightmare.
Glad I stuck with this series, and hope I like the next few as much as I did this one.